Thursday, September 22, 2011

Ward & Human Nature

Throughout the entirety of Frankenstein, Shelley depicts the monster in a myriad of ways. From power to helplessness and elation to devastation, the monster traverses the range of emotional experience in the two hundred fifty nine pages of the novel. Lynd Ward, through illustration, depicts the range of the monster’s experience as well, and makes a powerful statement in doing so. In his most powerful state, Ward’s illustration of the monster presents him as being superhuman. This is evident in the illustration opposite page 106 in which the monster’s size is emphasized. Victor stands miniscule in the distance, while the monster’s imposing presence consumes half the image with his muscle and claws depicted in all their power. On the other hand, when the monster is at his lowest point, he does not seem subhuman, but arguably his most human. It is in these illustrations where Ward makes a statement not only about the monster, but about his views on human nature.

While the monster sinks to many low points in the novel, I believe he is at his worst when he commits his most abhorrent act by murdering William Frankenstein, illustrated opposite page 160. It is clear that in this is image Ward is diminishing the monster’s superhuman qualities and emphasizing his humanistic ones.

First, in Ward’s illustration, the monster’s claws are not visible. Obviously, claws are a physical attribute which distinguish the monster from humans, thus they are emphasized in the illustration opposite page 106, an image showing him in all his power. Meanwhile, they are altogether absent from the image opposite 160. The monster seems as if he has normal human hands here, albeit extremely large ones, to associate him more with humanity.

Secondly, Ward depicts the monster in a pose that clearly resembles that of a human in agony with him on his knees, his back arched, and his head hung. This not only visualizes Shelley’s words when she writes that William’s struggle “brought despair to [his] heart”, but also further associates him with humanity (page 160). This can be contrasted with the monster’s pose in the illustration opposite 106. In this image, he does not seem human at all, with his arm dangling behind his back. Ward, on page opposite 160, could have depicted the saddened monster in various ways, but he specifically chose this pose, one which we as humans are all familiar with, to show the monster in utter despair.

Thirdly, in the illustration opposite page 160, the monster’s face is concealed by his hanging hair. The monster’s face is perhaps his most monstrous feature, apparent even by the monster’s own account when he states upon seeing his reflection, “…I became fully convinced that I was in reality the monster that I am” (page 124). Ward’s bold move in covering up the monster’s face in the illustration is done so, not only to show his despair in committing murder, but to avoid removing him from humanity and, in effect, to tie him closer together with it.

With all of this, Ward is highlighting his humanistic features and hiding his superhuman or monstrous ones in order to argue that the violence, hate, and despair within him, all of which the monster unleashes in this image, were adopted from humans. I believe Ward is also making a statement that human nature is violent, hateful, and filled with despair because every time we see the monster closely resembling a human, he is involved in one, if not all, of these three characteristics.

Since we are now familiar with the image opposite 160 and what aspects of the monster resemble humanity in it, let us examine the parallels it has with the image opposite 124. This illustration is depicting the scene in which the monster is in total despair after seeing his reflection. In this image we again cannot see his claws and he is in a human pose with his head hung. Although, unlike our primary image, part of his face is visible in the reflection, I believe this is an obligation to convey the plot, not to mention that the reflection looks incredibly human-like compared to the depiction of his face on the image opposite page 54. Finally, another parallel between the two images opposite 124 and 160 is the visibility of the three vertebrate atop the monster’s spine. I do not believe this is a coincidence and is a point to compare the despair and agony the monster is experiencing in both images and parallel their likeness to humanity.

In the illustration opposite page 160, Ward depicts the monster in human-like form to not only show that the violence and hate he is participating in was learned from humanity, but to reveal Ward’s sentiments regarding the evil and sorrow embedded in our very nature.


  1. I think you need to introduce the images you are going use in the first paragraph. you say you are using the image on 106 but then reference another image without letting me know exactly which one it is. It would be easier to understand you thoughts if you first describe all of the elements of the pictures you are gonna use in the first paragraph and then go into further detail in the following paragraphs.
    also you broke up the arguments into 3 district paragraphs. it would be more cohesive if you intertwined them together.
    Also i don't think you should have used the image from page 124. I think you could have just used the 2 images and focus your argument on their comparison. it is a little to much to use the extra image.
    overall i like you argument. it is an interesting perspective to say that Ward wants the viewer to think that the creature learned all of this monstrous behaviour from humans. i like this argument but i do feel it could have been supported better.

  2. I agree with Christy that a short introduction would have served you well. You managed without it, but the argument was complex enough it would have been nice.

    I think she's also right that you *could* have boiled it down to two images. I was so blown away by the 3 vertebrae thing that I liked it as is, but I see her point - you could have easily done 124/106 or 160/124, but doing all three wasn't absolutely necessary.

    My main comment is that you show extreme attention to detail, and that enables you to build a complicated and successful argument. Teh 3 vertebrae thing is great, but underdeveloped. The idea that the monster's face is hidden to make him *more* human, not less, is startling and compelling - I think you've nailed it on the head.

    Human=depraved seems to be the relationship you're articulating; the monster cannot be human, and when he tries to be, disaster ensues (making perhaps not his creation but his aspirations the real problem in the novel). There is abundant room here for that theme to be developed either through Ward or through Shelley, or through both at once.

    What I really want (other than a little streamlining and clarification of the main argument) is your response to Ward's ideas - what do you think of this interesting, weird reading of Shelley? You have a great explanation of what you think Ward's up to - now respond to it.